Wedeline Casimir is American Stage’s 2019-2020 Emerging Arts Leader Fellow. The American Stage Emerging Arts Leader Fellowship provides early-career arts leaders
a year-long experience building on their education and leadership development with
immersive participation in the business and the artistic initiatives at American Stage.
Before every performance of each of our Mainstage productions, either the Fellow or one of our Apprentices will give a prologue. The prologue takes place 30 minutes before the show and is meant to give dramaturgical context to the show as well as enrich the audience’s experience with fascinating details about the play and the artists. Wedeline presented the prologue for our season opener, VIETGONE. Read on to learn about her experience researching, creating and presenting the prologue.
As the Emerging Arts Leader Fellow, one of the things I have learned is the importance of a strong neutral theater voice. I have learned how important it is for arts organizations to provide a narrative, tell a story and provoke thought, all without telling anyone what is right and how they must perceive it.
I thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating the dramaturgical email and prologue for VIETGONE. This was my first time doing dramaturgical research but it quickly grew easy to conquer because I loved being able to research Vietnam and the themes surrounding the play, as well as getting a sense of playwright Qui Nyguen’s unique personality.
When I began, I felt it was best to explore the experiences and feelings before the hardcore facts. To really get a better understanding of the perspective of the Vietnam War refugees, I listened to podcasts from real-life survivors retelling their experience. This helped me to understand the main characters, Tong and Quang, so much better. For example, during act one, Quang and Tong have just been placed in the Refugee Camp Fort Chaffee. The two characters rap simultaneously about going home, however, their points of view are very different. Tong wants to make the United States her new home while Quang is determined to make it back home to Vietnam. The podcast helped me to see the layers of choices the refugees faced.
Next, I researched the country as a whole. I explored how dynamic the conflict was across the world and discovered so many different viewpoints. This created a very healthy place for me to showcase Qui Nyguen’s intentions and motives for writing VIETGONE and retelling his parent’s story. Nguyen wrote VIETGONE to create opportunities in a medium that he felt was lacking support for anyone that looked like him. Nguyen is quoted to have said “It’s about the Asian-American characters being the ones with the agency over the narrative….We get to be the heroes.”
One of the personal takeaways I had from delivering the prologue before each show was being able to engage with so many different audience members. Hearing feedback that the prologue was well executed and having individuals taking further interest in my role at American Stage was truly a delight. But the most fun I had was seeing how different crowds reacted each night, it kept the prologue spontaneous. This brought an excitement to share, not knowing which part of the prologue would have the audience glued and attentive or which would cause them to chuckle. It was a privilege to be able to bring roundness to the story that VIETGONE shares.
I’m grateful that leading the prologue process has helped to reinforce the importance of a strong neutral theater voice. An attitude like this has proven to be so inviting and allows every audience member the opportunity to choose for themselves what they will believe or where they stand.